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A place in the shade to remember

Gary and Sheridith Maresh spent a lot of time at Ragle Park with their dogs before his death. A memorial dog shelter will be built at the park in his memory. (provided photo)

MARY JO WINTER , TOWNS CORRESPONDENT

When beloved Sebastopol resident and volunteer firefighter Gary Maresh passed away in January at 61, his family decided to honor his memory by raising money for a permanent shade structure at the Ragle Ranch Dog Park.

The new structure, a 12-foot by 16-foot “ramada” made of red cedar will replace the temporary pop-up tent now used to give dog owners protection from the sun and rain.

Ragle Park had been a big part of Maresh’s life since his family moved to Sebastopol in 1984. His four children played sports there; his firefighters conducted weekly drills there; many of the Eagle Scout projects for his Boy Scout Troop 27 took place there; and he regularly walked his dogs there.

A 30-year volunteer with the Gold Ridge and Sebastopol fire departments, Maresh also worked at San Quentin Prison for 14 years, rising through the ranks from correctional officer to fire chief.

He also was a certified EMT and Red Cross volunteer, a ham radio enthusiast, a certified NRA instructor, an avid birdwatcher and had recently received his 35-year pin for service to Boy Scouts of America.

In his role as San Quentin fire chief, Maresh managed the Pen PALS dog training program, which teams inmate fire fighters with the Marin Humane Society to teach fundamental skills to rescue dogs, making them more adoptable.

Maresh’s widow, Sheridith, says the dog park was an oasis from his stressful job, so it seemed only fitting to have a memorial for him placed there.

“Looking back, I realize that the unconditional love dogs give so freely balanced the intensity of his work life,” she said. “After the kids grew up and left home, the role of the dogs became even more important.”

A little over half of the $5,000 the family’s fundraising goal has been donated, said Melissa Kelley of the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, the nonprofit organization that raises money for special projects.

Kelley says construction can begin as soon as they receive the final permit, with the goal of completing the structure by early 2016. Dog tags featuring the names of donors’ pets will be attached to the finished ramada.

Contributions can be mailed to Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, 2300 County Center Drive #120A, Santa Rosa 95403, marked “In memory of Gary Maresh.” Online contributions can be made at sonomacountyparksfoundation.org, click on “Support Parks,” then “Donate Now.”

More information is available from Pam McBride, pam.mcbride@sonoma-county.org or 565-1355.